Management Basics

Some managers new to their management roles asked me recently, “Just what are the basic management functions?” They weren’t sure what they were or whether they were ‘doing the right thing.’ In trawling the dim, dark recesses of my memory, I eventually recalled the oft-quoted five basic functions. However, in examining them further, I thought that as simple headings. they lacked something. I thought too, it was a misnomer to say ‘basic’ management functions because each one was anything but basic, in complexity and execution. And indeed, putting them altogether on a daily basis is something that requires extraordinary juggling skills and personal abilities.

So, I’ve redone the list and added some things. I’ve listed the key management functions as those that are needed to establish and operate an effective organisation. They are all equally important and are listed in no particular order.

Planning – This activity occurs at different levels. One level concerns the big picture, the long term stuff; the goals, the strategic intent of where the business wants to be, where it is now, what needs to be focused on to get results. It includes documenting a strategic plan. Planning at another level includes the smaller picture stuff, the doing, at a practical, tactical level. It also involves documenting annual action plans, detailing what needs to happen, how it’s going to be done; the when and by whom.

The planning function requires managers to stop and think – to make time to reflect on the business and to determine what needs to be done. The whole process of stopping, thinking, planning and developing plans provides much needed focus.

Organising – It’s about assembling the people, the finances, the people and any other resources needed to ensure that whatever needs doing, is done. It’s about coordinating multiple activities, achieving through others, creating order out of chaos and well, basically sorting ‘stuff’ to make things happen.

Staffing – This includes all the joys of advertising, recruiting, selecting, inducting, training, buddying, coaching, performance appraising and guiding staff. It’s about having systems, policies and legal practices in place. It’s about ensuring staff are involved, listened to, supported, happy and focused, productive and functioning well. It also includes having the right numbers of people, with the right qualifications and experience, in the right positions, at the right time. It’s about having exiting processes; professional development plans linked to the company’s strategic goals; ways of acknowledging efforts and encouraging people to be the best that they can be. It’s also about thinking ahead, at what skills, qualifications and experience the business may need for the future.

Leading – This includes sometimes going boldly where no one’s gone before – or taking the path already well trodden…..and taking the troops with you. It’s about having a vision and goals for the future. It’s about knowing how to inspire, motivate, lead, direct and communicate all of the above, to make it all happen. It’s also about leading by example, having ethical practices, personal integrity and passion, enthusiasm and commitment – to the organisation and the staff.

Controlling – This is the function of keeping a monitoring, roving eye on all aspects of the business, all of the time and taking corrective actions, when needed. Monitoring is critical in order to keep the whole business on track, towards its goals.

But wait, there’s more! Managers need to successfully undertake more than the ‘basic’ functions. Particular skills and abilities are also required – for example, technical skills. Managers do need to be good at whatever it is one needs to be good at, in the sector or organisation one’s in. Then there are interpersonal skills, which include the ability to relate well to people, to get on well with diverse personalities, to get through tricky situations, to be able to ‘bring’ people along and achieve through others. Communication skills are also critical, meaning the ability to communicate effectively through verbal, written, listening and non-verbal communications. Conceptual skills are also needed – the ability to recognise complex and dynamic issues; to examine factors that influence problems, to see the big picture and the smaller picture, simultaneously. Decision making ability is also critical. Managers need to problem identify and find solutions to issues and thereby avoiding the trap of analysis paralysis.

But wait! There’s more! Skills are also needed in other key areas. The ability to read and ‘do’ figures is essential. The responsibility for developing budgets, forecasting results, monitoring same and taking corrective actions to make sure all is on track, on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, is a requirement today upon most managers.

Another key managerial skill is being able to work both on and in the business. The ‘on’ meaning working on the whole picture and all its component parts. The ‘in’ being working at a hands-on level, doing the doing. The trap to be avoided is spending all the time ‘in’ the business and no time ‘on’ it. Another essential quality is the ability to

manage and cope with change – the one constant factor in most organisations today.

As with many things that sound basic to do, it’s the doing of them that can be surprisingly challenging. The doing is made complex as managers work amidst disruptions, constraints, changing expectations, external and internal pressures, deadlines and constant change. So, get yourself a set of juggling balls, step forward with confidence – and juggle!


First Published NZBusiness October 2002�

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